For the photo-tech junkies, here is an outline of the major pieces of equipment I use. I am a B&H affiliate, so I have linked the equipment to B&H where you can get more information on the product, customer reviews and a lot of good deals. (Note that any purchases made at B&H through this site will help support my macro photography and this blog)
My workhorse camera is the full frame Canon 5D Mk II (now evolved into the 5D Mk III) with the 24-105mm f4 L IS USM lens and a Vello battery grip. I don’t use the battery grip all the time, but it is very handy for the extra power it provides when I am shooting video. The Canon T2i (now defunct, the current equivalent is the Canon T3i) with a Vello battery grip is my ‘back-up’ camera, a very light, entry-level camera, but one that has produced many of my published images. When I want to travel light, the T2i is the camera I use.
Before I get into the lenses I would like to explain my purchasing philosophy regarding photography equipment. While camera technology changes and improves yearly, quality lenses are much more stable in design and lifespan. So while I use entry or mid-level cameras, my choice for lenses is to go for tougher professional quality glass, because they will very likely last the rest of my life. In regards to the image quality provided by a lens, cost is not always (but usually!) a good indicator. Check the lens tests at sites such as DxO Mark. Careful research can help you find gems in low-cost or after market lenses. In a future post I will pull together an affordable entry-level macro-based photography kit that can still give good results.
For the little critters, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Lens (with a Vello lens hood) is my most used macro lens. I bought it just before the pro-level dust and weather sealed version in the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens was released, a model which would be preferable for those who work in harsh conditions. The Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo Lens receives the next highest use, usually with the Canon MT-24EX Twin Lite Flash. The Tamron Telephoto SP AF 180mm f/3.5 Di LD IF Macro Autofocus Lens for Canon is a fantastic long, 1:1 macro lens (there is one for Nikon too!) which I don’t use enough.
For ‘regular’ photography I have the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Lens and the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens, both of which nicely complement (and overlap with) the 24-105mm f4 L IS USM lens that came with the 5D MK II. The EF 16-35mm f/2.8L is my newest lens, and excellent for close-up environmental shots. I chose the EF 70-300mm over the more popular 100 – 400L lens because it had the quality as well as weather and dust-seals and up-to-date VR that, for my uses, made it preferable over the old 100-400mm dust-vacuum. The 70 – 300 is also good for close-up photography when combined with an extension tube…it gives super smooth backgrounds at the tele-end. I would love to have the brilliant new Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender, but I would like to be able to eat something other than peanut-butter sandwiches in my old age!
My first large flash was the Sigma EF-530 DG, a budget equivalent of my second large flash, the Canon Speedlite 580EX II, whose heritage survives in the Canon 600EX-RT. With these I use the LumiQuest Softbox Promax III to diffuse the light when shooting macro, especially with the Tamron Telephoto SP AF 180mm .
When I travel light I take along the handy-dandy Canon Speedlite 270EX II, which for some people has even replaced the old and awkward MT-24EX twin flash. I never use bare-flash with macro, there is always supplementary diffusion added. Part of the diffusion I use for Canon MT-24EX Macro Twin Lite Flash is provided by the Sto-Fen OM-24XSET Omni-Bounce Set, but I need to do some testing to see if these are actually contributing to the final diffusion effect. For now, they act as a removable base for velcro to attach sheet diffusers.
I’ll give a rundown on more equipment and accessories later, there is a lot of important doo-dads and gadgets that help make the macro photographer’s life easier. An edited version of this post will also be posted in the My Gear page, reached from the tab above.